The New York Public Library Has Calculated Its Most Checked-Out Books Of All Time

Jan 13, 2020
Originally published on January 14, 2020 12:47 pm

The New York Public Library has been loaning books for a long time — the institution turns 125 this year.

To celebrate, the library dug into its records and calculated a list of the 10 books that have been checked out the most in its history.

The most-wanted book? The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

The Caldecott Medal-winning tale of a young boy's encounter with snow has been checked out 485,583 times from the NYPL since it was published in 1962.

It shares qualities with many of the other most-borrowed titles: The beautifully illustrated book has been around a long time, it's well-known and well-loved, and it's available in numerous languages.

"It is such a relatable story, and pure magic for kids and adults alike," Andrew Medlar, director of the library's BookOps selection team, said in a statement. "It's on people's radar screens, they remember when they first heard it, and they want to share that experience with their kids. And the artwork is just gorgeous."

Ezra Jack Keats' 1962 classic The Snowy Day has been checked out more times than any other book in the history of the New York Public Library.
Jonathan Blanc / The New York Public Library

Children's books make up a large part of the list. That's not too surprising — short books can be read faster and are returned more quickly. Even the more adult books on the list, such 1984 and To Kill A Mockingbird, are rather slim.

Only one nonfiction book appears on the list: How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The self-help juggernaut was published in 1936.

The library also awarded an "honorable mention" to Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. That book might have been a contender for the all-time top spot, but NYPL children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore so disliked the 1947 book that the library didn't carry it until 1972. That late entry kept the book off the top 10 list — for now.

Here are the top 10:

  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: 485,583 checkouts
  2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: 469,650 checkouts
  3. 1984 by George Orwell: 441,770 checkouts
  4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: 436,016 checkouts
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 422,912 checkouts
  6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: 337,948 checkouts
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: 316,404 checkouts
  8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: 284,524 checkouts
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling: 231,022 checkouts
  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: 189,550 checkouts
Children line up at the Chatham Square Library on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1911.
The New York Public Library

Only one book on the list is at all recent: the first Harry Potter novel, which was published in the U.S. in 1998. The library says the Sorcerer's Stone and Rowling's subsequent tales of wizarding are always popular but that they experience regular spikes in circulation when new editions or movies come out.

From year to year, books on current events prove popular. The library's top checkout of 2019 was Becoming, Michelle Obama's autobiography.

The all-time list includes many titles that people read, treasure and want to share with their children.

"The books on this list have transcended generations and, much like the Library itself, are as relevant today as they were when they first arrived," said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx. "This list tells us something about New Yorkers over the last 125 years — what moves them, what excites them, what stands the test of time."

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